Dublin's Board Gáis Energy Theatre is awash in pink this month with the arrival of Legally Blonde – The Musical.
Based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film of the same name, Legally Blonde played 595 performances on Broadway. The West End version closed earlier this month after a successful run, which included the 2011 Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Legally Blonde tells the tale of Elle Woods, a bubbly Malibu sorority girl who follows her pompous ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School in the hopes of transforming from a "Marilyn" into
a "Jackie" and thereby winning him back. Befriended by Paulette, a brassy Bostonian beautician, and the corduroyed law school grad Emmett, Elle navigates the choppy waters of law school and realizes she is worth more than just her looks.
The show is pure frothy fun, full of well-paced action and musical numbers that successfully advance the plot and define the characters. The score by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin contains some irresistibly hummable melodies like the opener, "Ohmigod You Guys" and the cracking Act I song-and-dance extravaganza "What You Want". A special treat for Dublin audiences is Paulette's "Ireland", a meditation on the Emerald Isle's rustic male population; men with exotic names like Brendan and Seamus.
Though Legally Blonde has been updated to the present-day, its themes carry a decidedly pre-recession, pre-austerity vibe. Elle is nothing if not the embodiment of the Celtic Tiger era when problems disappeared with the swipe of a credit card. Audiences may squirm at the first world problems of a privileged, attractive girl who uses retail therapy at every turn (and the 'Bend and Snap' is not exactly a ringing feminist message), but what ultimately triumphs is Elle's refusal to live up to the stereotypes others have of her and to just be herself. And it's hard to argue with that.
The show's staging is effectively adapted to accommodate the tour's smaller set, though an interesting change from its Broadway incarnation (which I saw in New York back in 2008), stood out. Here, Iin Act II, Emmett and Elle sing the title song face-to-face in the empty courtroom they've both been working in. When Emmett croons: 'What about love?/ I never mentioned love/ The timing's bad, I know/ But perhaps if I made it more clear/ That you belong right here/ You wouldn't have to go/ Cause you know that I'm so much in love', Elle shrugs him off and walks away. In contrast, the Broadway version staged the same song with the characters separated by the closed door of Elle's dorm room, making Emmett's confession merely an unheard aside. The tour's direction makes Elle seem unnaturally heartless and self-centred with the one person who's been nothing but nice to her.
Luckily, Elle is written to be an inherently lovable character. She is spunky, optimistic, and, yes, cute as a button, but under the highlights and pink sparkle is a genuinely nice person. Kudos to Faye Brooks who proves a warm and funny actress and hits Elle's high notes in a soaring crystal-clear belt. She's the kind of girl you want to be your best friend by the show's end.
Stephen Ashfield as Emmett is undeniably charming, and he and Brooks generate a believable chemistry onstage. As the exercise queen and murder defendant, Brooke Wyndham, Hannah Grover is a stand-out, as is 2007 X-Factor Semi-Finalist, Niki Evans as Hibernophile Paulette. But the most popular performers of the night were possibly the tiny canine stars who played chihuahua "Bruiser" and "Rufus" the bulldog.
Legally Blonde's lovable cheekiness and the strength of its talented cast make this production a winner. It plays Dublin's Bord Gáis Energy Theatre through Saturday, 21st April.